Kelin (Ermek Tursunov, 2009): Kazakhstan

Reviewed by Lea Encarnacion. Viewed at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

Kelin, a story about womanhood and family life in Kazakhstan, is director and writer Ermek Tursunov‘s first film.  Controversy surrounds this film as he was beaten, assaulted, and almost thrown out of the country for making this film.

In the snowy rural mountains of Kazakhstan, a wolf is spotted, its white fur matching the hillside snow, framed by wooden tree trunks.  A naked girl is seen in a small darkly lit makeshift room, being body painted as part of some sort of ritual.  There are two primal men, gambling against each other, in front of an elderly man.  The more aggressive man wins and the loser sets out on foot.  Outside in the snow, the girl runs after the man who lost.  In a passionate and dedicated demeanor, he cuts her arm and drinks her blood, as an act to make a promise mark to come back to get her.

The title screens in big red letters against a black background.  There is no dialogue whatsoever.  The winning man brings the girl home on a  donkey in a departure ceremony, leaving her parents behind.  In his cave, he eats, takes off her ceremonial headdress, and sees her blood bite scars which she had been trying to hide from him.  Angered and in a state of defiance, he rapes her.  Next, she eats with his family in their hut where the mother sees her red scar on her chest.  She looks at her son in disapproval. The loser of the game and Kelin’s true lover returns to fight the man who won.

In a crazy and enraged battle, he hits a wooden stick into the man’s eye, bloodying it.  He takes back the girl and the grandmother is forced to acknowledge her son’s fate.  This film did not require subtitles, even in the absence of dialogue, which goes to show how strong and well it communicates the character’s feelings and emotions with the audience members.  The lead actress talent was amazingly strong and everyone was surprised to discover that she had never acted before, and probably never will act again ( which is a shame because she has amazing talent.)

The themes of this film encompass the nomadic culture, shamanism, cult burials, to symbolism about female figures being the head of the household.  In reference to the shamanistic cult burial in Kelin, it is all about being one.  The film is set in the second century, although it could have also been set in 400 BC. The allegorical meaning and symbolism of family life in rural Kazakhstan fills this movie up to the brim and I felt like I was transported into another place and time, a very foreign area and I was deeply immersed while I was watching this film.  I would say that Kelin is one of the most culturally concentrated films I’ve seen all year and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in seeing it.

About this entry